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Early Settlement

by David Goldfield
Professor of History, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, 2005.
Reprinted with permission from The North Carolina Atlas Revisited. Managing editor: Alfred W. Stuart.

Development of the Frontier, 1657 - 1835

During the late 17th century, settlement in North Carolina proceeded from Virginia migration, first into the Albemarle region, then into the Pamlico district. By 1710, the new sparsely settled province had a capital at Edenton. But the migration caused growing alarm among the Indian populations resulting in a conflict that raged on and off for four years concluding in 1715 with the decimation of the Indians and the opening up of additional land to white settlement. The key event that affected the colony’s development until the time of the Revolution was King George II’s takeover of North Carolina from the heirs of the Lords Proprietors in 1729. The change generated a land bonanza in the colony as the Crown eased land purchase requirements and sent out the equivalent of real estate agents to drum up business. Their work, and the encouragement of royal governors, touched off a boom in North Carolina that lasted from 1730 to the American Revolution. Forests along the Coastal Plain were leveled for farms, settlers poured into the backcountry, and the line of settlement extended to the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Avenues of Early Settlement

The origins of North Carolina’s 18th-century newcomers varied widely. South Carolinians moved north into the Lower Cape Fear region to establish pine plantations with African slave labor. As land grew scarce in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia after 1730, migrants trekked down the Great Wagon road which began near Philadelphia and extended southwestward to the Shenandoah Valley before veering east into the North and South Carolina Piedmont. These newcomers included a variety of ethnic and religious groups, including Quakers, German Lutherans, German Moravians, and Scotch-Irish Presbyterians and Baptists. Settling primarily in the Piedmont, they contrasted with the mostly English and African coastal areas and, in fact, had little contact with those areas. The rivers of the Piedmont flowed into the South Carolina colony and that is the route commerce and communication followed as well. By themed-eighteenth century residents of Piedmont North Carolina had more contacts with Pennsylvania than they did with the coastal district of their own colony.

European and African Settlement in 1730

In 1730, the colony’s population included 30,000 whites and 6,000 blacks, almost all of whom lived along the Coastal Plain; by 1775, the population had grown to 265,000 inhabitants, including 10,000 blacks, and settlement was scattered from the coast to the mountains. By that latter date, North Carolina was the fourth most populous of the thirteen colonies. The population was also among the most diverse with some estimates placing the German population as high as 30 percent.

Figure 4 European and African Settlement

References and additional resources:

Orr, Douglas Milton, and Alfred W. Stuart. 2000. The North Carolina atlas: portrait for a new century. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Powell, William Stevens, and Jay Mazzocchi. 2006. Encyclopedia of North Carolina. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Powell, William Stevens. 1989. North Carolina through four centuries. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.



Doing genealogy on the Gaskins of Hatteras, Ocacoke, NC.
Love what I am seeing now, on your site. Are there certain
sites that I need to explore?


I can trace my ancestry back to Robert Michael Potter 1708 in New Brunswick, I am interested to find out anything prior to that.


Looking for information on the Rutherford family. My 4th great grandfather was William Rutherford Jr. Died after 18 Mar 1809 Lincoln, NC married to Elizabeth Burke. Any info would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.


I am trying to find information, on my great,great grandfather, Franklin Clark, born in 1827, in Edgecombe County, North Carolina, and died in Neshoba County, Mississippi. Any information on the Clarks , will be greatly appreciated. Thank you


I am directly related to a Robert Bevil(Bevel). He was born in 1762 in Granville County,N.C. He was a Revolutionary War veteran. I would really like to find out who his parents were and if possible how they wound up in North Carolina. Any information would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.


Dear Steven,

I am copying your question to Reference Services at the NC Government & Heritage Library.  A reference librarian will contact you shortly to help you with this question. 


Marie Jones, Government & Heritage Library


My mothers father Charlie G. Swindell lived in Stonewall NC. Mother was born there Feb. 26, 1917 as was several of her siblings. Her mothers name was Cynthia Stowe. Do you have any idea why I can not find anything about the Swindells that lived there for years. I know they raised peanuts. Family bible shows Charlies father was Issac who's father was Zacheria. We have always been told that the family lived there as long as anyone can remember. Mother passed November 23rd, 2017. She was 99yrs young.


Dear Helena,

We are sorry to hear about your loss.  

I am forwarding your question to reference services at the NC Govt. & Heritage Library.  A librarian will contact you shortly to try to give you some assistance with strategies and resources for resarching your family's history.

Best wishes,

Kelly Agan, Government & Heritage Library


Where can I obtain your maps in a larger format?


Dear Van,

Thank you for visiting NCpedia and sharing your question.

This question has a somewhat complicated answer, I’m afraid.  The first, short answer, is that the maps are available generally in a print volume called The North Carolina Atlas which was published in 2000 by the University of North Carolina Press.  The college professors who created the original volume, Douglas Orr and Alfred Stuart, made an updated online version several years later of some of the content and published those updates as the North Carolina Atlas Revisited.  NCpedia republished the content and maps with permission. Unfortunately, the website is no longer available.

If you would like to locate a copy of the print volume, here is a link to the item record in WorldCat:  WorldCat searches the holdings of libraries all over the world and you may be able to find a library near you that has the book.  If you are near Raleigh, we have the book in our collection at the State Library (although the book is for in-house use only).  
If you might be interested in using the maps from the print volume, you should contact the University of North Carolina Press to inquire about rights and permissions.  Unfortunately, the copyright trail of these maps is somewhat murky and I think UNC Press is the best place to inquire since they published the original print volume.  Here is a link to their Permission Request page:

Finally, I can tell you that the map on the right of the NCpedia page (showing migratory patterns in early North Carolina history) was originally published in 1963, in a publication by Cordelia Camp and the Carolina Charter Tercentenary Commission.  This book has been digitized and is available online with very good quality images. Here is a link:  And here is a link to a page with the map:  You can see that the map in the Camp volume was adapted from an earlier map, and the map on the NCpedia page from the Atlas Revisited was adapted from Camp’s 1963 publication.  

I hope this helps!  Please let me know if you have any questions or need additional help locating information.  Feel free to post back here.  I have also replied to you at the email address you left with your comment.

Best wishes,
Kelly Agan, NC Government & Heritage Library,

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